Jul 28, 2009

Helping your customers get lean

We’re starting to hear more about supplier development, but how often do we look at customer development? Not just adding to our customer base, but helping customers change for the better. One company that’s been doing that for decades is Consumers Interstate Corp., distributor of maintenance and office supplies in Norwich, Connecticut.

In June, CIC invited neighboring companies to its corporate headquarters to spend a full day learning about lean at no charge. (It cost CIC about $5,000.) Every other month, it hosts half-day seminars. Both feature speakers with experience in implementing lean and discussions about how participants can apply lean in their own companies.

This is part of CIC’s lean procurement model that helps companies streamline their practices and offload the buying of routine supplies, letting buyers at customer companies concentrate on procuring high-dollar items like raw materials and equipment.

There are a lot of companies that will give customers buyer’s cards and offer online consolidated ordering of paper clips and pencils, but do they offer lockout-tagout systems and testing and monitoring equipment too? Do they invoice monthly instead of order by order? Do they track everything for you?

Moreover, CIC’s sales reps have developed into lean consultants who will come into a customer’s office and help the staff find ways to make their work faster and more accurate. They’ll help staff construct a value stream map of its procurement process. Fully trained in lean office improvement, they’ll help them take the typical 25 steps and reduce them to nine or so. They look at delays and redundant and unnecessary approval steps that hold up purchases and clutter the inboxes of managers. They show customers how 5S and kaizen can make work easier.

CIC also has an automated process that analyzes customer orders and suggests alternative products that will save money. CIC’s fleet of trucks and drivers make customized and just-in-time deliveries according to the customer’s needs.

Their goal is to help customers think lean and cut the time it takes to order maintenance and operations supplies in half, but their lean training reaches further into customer organizations than that. Seminars and consultation are not just about lean procurement from CIC’s customer-service perspective. They help people get the message that lean can take out cost and time from all parts of their organizations.

Self-described “lean junkie,” company president Kenn Fischburg has been working on improving CIC’s processes as well as helping customers since the 1980s. Happy customers include Iseli (a Danaher company—they know lean when they see it), Greene Plastics, Naugatuck Glass, and Darlington Fabrics Corporation. It’s all about adding value, in Fischburg’s view. He had the vision and drive to package lean thinking into service to customers, improving their competitiveness and supporting a region’s ability to preserve vitality and employment.

Check out CIC’s website at www.cigco.com.

This is not an ad for CIC. It's a nudge to get you thinking about how you could help your customers survive and thrive. How about it?

Jul 14, 2009

Finding the signal within the noise

Lean Reflections gets a fair amount of traffic from Google searches, and I have to share this one that brought a searcher to my site: I NEED SUMMARY OF THREE CUPS OF TEA YOU STUPID COMPUTER. Boy, what's a lean reflection on this? I suppose it's similar to the TV commercials for Microsoft's Bing--too many irrelevant results on Google. I haven't tried Bing because of an irrational revulsion at all things Microsoft, but they certainly home in on a need.

There's always noise surrounding a signal and that interferes with lean thinking, especially at the start. Everyone has an opinion and so many things are going wrong, all competing for attention. Like Homeland Security looking for a terrorist by gathering data from all our computer and phone transactions, you're looking for an underlying problem in an avalanche of information.

So, lean guys and gals out there, how to you decide what to go after?
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